There was completely no justification for the arrests yesterday as the police acted without provocation for the peaceful and orderly gathering was in the process of dispersing, and what is even most shocking and unacceptable was that many arrested had gone to a nearby restaurant for food and refreshments!
It is clear that the police officers responsible for the 48 arrests yesterday had either not read or have utter contempt for the recommendations of the Suhakam public inquiry into the Kesas Highway gathering last November, particularly with regard to “Crowd dispersal methods” as Suhakam had specifically recommended:
“Police dispersal methods to be reviewed, such as restraint when dispersing assemblies using canes, batons, tear gas and water cannons. Three loud and clear warnings at 10-minute intervals to be given as well as sufficient time to disperse in relation to the size of the crowd. People trying to get away should not be chased or assaulted.”
Where was the “restraint” on the part of the police in the arrest of the 48 people yesterday? If the police is going to arrest people who are dispersing, what then is the use of asking them to disperse?
It is already an outrage that more than two months after the publication of the Suhakam public inquiry report on the Kesas Highway gathering and findings of widespread police violations of human rights, the government could not make up its mind as to what stand and action to take on the report - with one committee after another being set up to justify the Cabinet’s inordinate procrastination over the Suhakam report.
The police have now acted in an even more outrageous manner, showing utter contempt not only of Suhakam but also of Parliament which passed the law to establish the Malaysian Human Rights Commission in acting in an even more high-handed and irresponsible manner in the crowd-handling in Taiping yesterday.
Is the police’s top priority to ensure the maintenance of peace and order or to provoke a breach of the peace by arresting people who are dispersing or having food and refreshments in nearby restaurants?
I am gravely concerned as to whether what happened yesterday was an isolated incident because of the misguided zeal of the police officer in charge or whether it marked a new phase of police high-handedness and intolerance to exploit the paranoia after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The terrorist mass murders of September 11 have had far-reaching political, economic and security repercussions not only in the United States and the international scene, but in every country in the world.
There is for instance the general feeling that in order to ensure greater security, one must be prepared to trade off civil liberties, human rights and democratic freedoms - an attitude which would make Malaysians more tolerant of police abuses like Internal Security Act detentions and high-handed police actions like the Kamunting episode resulting in 48 arrests yesterday.
Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should give full assurance to the nation and people that the government would not exploit the post-September 11 paranoia to launch or allow a new phase of police high-handedness and intolerance of the civil rights of Malaysians and that the government would be vigilant in upholding the principles of police responsibility, accountability and transparency.
The Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai should not only announce the full and unconditional release of the 48 persons arrested yesterday but come out with a new Police Manual governing police handling of peaceful assemblies and crowd dispersals, taking fully into account the recommendations of the Suhakam report of the public inquiry into the Kesas Highway Incident last November.